A New Zealand Family

by Jan Barnes

My great great grandparents, Joseph and Rebecca Brabazon came to live in Auckland, New Zealand in the early 1860s. They were from county Cork in Ireland. Auckland was only twenty years old, then and although the town was creeping out from the harbour the surrounding countryside was sparsely populated.
Joseph was soon employed as head teacher at the biggest and roughest school in town, St Matthew's Boys where the classes were large, the pupils were big and discipline was kept with the cane. He moved on to the Wesleyan School, then when economic depression hit the town he opened his own, an academy for young gentlemen, where he taught the classics (their parents could afford to pay).
Rebecca arrived a year after Joseph with their five children on the fast clipper 'Blue Jacket' pictured below. She taught as well, even though she eventually bore thirteen children.

Illustration Above - Joseph aged 34, about two years before leaving Ireland. He sailed to the colony on the 'African' reaching Auckland on 30 January 1860, after a 'tedious passage' of 111 days from Plymouth

Their oldest child, Augusta was nine years old when she came to New Zealand. She was allowed to attend the boy's school where her father taught, rather than the girl's school next door. She therefore had a better education than was normal for those days, when girls spent a good deal of time learning feminine skills such as needlework. Joseph's youngest daughter Clarice once said. 'Father expects me to know as many languages as he does'.

Clarice was a child prodigy. She first played the piano in public when only six or seven years old. Her sister Henrietta who was also very accomplished taught her from the age of three. The Australian Brabazons have inherited the family's musical talent.

The Brabazons and Rebecca's brother and sister bought land in the Waitakere ranges to the west of Auckland. Cheap land was probably what brought them to the colony - forty country acres for the cost of each ship's passage and twenty acres for children. They probably all intended to live a country life together when the bush was cleared but James Drabble rushed away in the Thames gold rush and Susan married a regimental man. Joseph and Rebecca built a house nicknamed 'The Castle' on the top of a lonely bush clad hill in the middle of the ranges, where they all lived for a while. It was a beautiful place with a view of the Manukau harbour and waterfalls nearby. Joseph took his pupils to stay there with the family in the school holidays. Settlement never progressed in those parts and in 1873 the Brabazons were back teaching in town.

About 1883 when the economy worsened once again they left to live in Australia, returned to Auckland about 1892, then went back to Sydney for their last years.

Most of their surviving children also went to live in Australia but Henrietta, Herbert, Arthur and Clarice returned to Auckland. Ernest and Augusta never left. Herbert and Arthur died unmarried. Ernest had three daughters and no sons (his second daughter, Muriel married Henrietta's only son Vien Caillau), so consequently although there are many in this country who descend from Joseph and Rebecca there are none with the Brabazon name.

Augusta Brabazon was my great grandmother. In 1871 she married a neighbouring settler's son, Thomas Ussher (1850-1910). They had ten children including twins who died as infants. Both had a passion for the Waitakere ranges; its bush clad hills and wild surf beaches. They cleared bush and scrub for a farm between, Piha and Karekare beaches; also ran a boarding house and beach cabins which their sons helped to look after.

In 1899 Augusta sold a block of virgin bush to the government to be kept in perpetuity as a kauri and native forest reserve. Unlike most of the surrounding area it has never been milled and remains as an example of plant diversity.

My grandfather, Neville Ussher (1884-1956) was their youngest son. He farmed part of the family land from 1912. In 1914 he married Dulcie Yearbury (1894-1991). My mother, Betty Ussher (1916-1987) was the eldest of their three children.

Children of Joseph and Rebecca Jane Brabazon (Born in Ireland)

  • Augusta Sophia 1852-1907

  • Henry Edward 1853-1915

  • Frederick Lennox 1855-1934

  • Henrietta Charlotte 1857-1932Susan Madeline 1859-1861

Born Auckland

  • Joseph James 1862-1863

  • Ernest Rudolf 1863-1940

  • Herbert 1865-1901

  • Sydenham 1866-1942

  • Percival Medway 1868-1945

  • Joseph Arthur 1870-1872

  • Arthur 1871-1893

  • Clarice Edith 1873-1954